TECHlace 3D Printed Jewelry Proposal: Design Process
A behind-the-scenes look at the design process for the TECHlace entry to the 2015 Wonderluk Design Competition for 3D Printed Jewelry, discussing how the proposal was developed from concept through execution.
December 21, 2014
A Design Competition
A couple of weeks ago, @WonderLuk announced they were hosting a design competition for 3D printed jewelry. The winning pieces would be featured on their site for purchase, and might even get a showing at London Fashion Week. (Drool.) Making 3D printed jewelry is exactly something that I've been dying to try for ages, but I just haven't had the lull in my schedule to delve into it yet. Of course, with the added incentive of that degree of potential promotion and opportunity to lust after, I made the usual designer's bargain: sleep less, design more, make that deadline.
The Back Story
Let's let the cat out of the bag: I was one of those kids that was attracted to beautiful old fabrics, especially lace. No joke, I still have a drawer of old tea napkins, handkerchiefs, and other bits of old textiles tucked away. (Ok, maybe the cat was never really all the way in the bag.) Most of these old pieces come from family, passed down to me from varying generational distances. I'd love to rescue them from seclusion and put them to use, but, the problem is, these things are fragile. They were meant to be used to wipe your nose, or dab up a touch of coffee, but now that they are heirlooms, it seems wrong to risk ruining something antique, by using it for its exact intended purpose. (I know; it is a little backwards.) If I could duplicate these heirlooms somehow, I wouldn't worry about it, I suppose because I would just use the new ones. But, let's get serious: it's not like I'm about to become an expert in hand-stitched lace.
Finally, it came to me: I needed to recreate this beautiful old lace in a more durable material, and it wouldn't hurt to move beyond literal duplication of the pieces, either. (Am I really going to get into using real handkerchiefs when I never have before? Probably not.) For a while, the idea of resurrecting the lace in a new way was more of a theoretical solution. But, as 3D printing output improved, a variation of it finally became feasible: digitize these delicate, hand-stitched pieces in a 3D modeling program, alter them as needed or desired, and wear them as jewelry. The Wonderluk competition was the perfect opportunity to test my idea, or, if nothing else, to just get the ball rolling on the concept.
A Game Plan
With the deadline for the competition looming, I needed a game plan to pull it all off under the wire. Though (of course) I've been meaning to, I haven't yet mastered the particular 3D modeling program that would allow me to export 3D-printable files, and there was no time to hone my skills before the deadline. Instead, my plan was to target one of the five (of 20) winning spots set aside for people in my position: good idea, no printable file.
So, if I was going to submit images alone, how would I create ones of an imaginary product that could communicate the concept well enough to make an impact on the judges? Though I didn't know who would be reviewing the entries, I made an assumption that since this was about fashion, that a series of mock print ads marketing the jewelry line might do the trick. But, could I sketch these intricate proposed pieces well enough by hand to make them look real? I thought not. I would need some sort of underlay that I could trace and adapt in Photoshop. And, thus, my game plan was formed: create physical mockups of the pieces that I would model during a photoshoot, then make the rest of the magic happen with ever-indispensable Photoshop and InDesign.
Getting down to it, first things first: document the lace precedent. Not surprisingly, a basic flatbed scanner manages this task splendidly. Though I've posted a scaled-down image here (but still larger-than-life), I originally scanned it at 1200 DPI. At that scale, you can trace the path of each thread! Pretty cool, but not really necessary for our purposes here. It will, however, come in handy if I want to 3D model the lace meticulously accurately, but I'm not quite ready for that leap just yet. What I needed to create the mockups, was a disposable version of the lace handkerchief that I could cut out, sketch on, shape, what-have-you, while the original antique remained pristine. Once scanned, I could print out as many copies as I needed for the design process. It was perfect.
When I first began playing with the prints of the lace, I wasn't yet sure which route I would take to create the mockups. I toyed with using the print as an underlay to form a mockup out of wire, or of malleable wax, but those options were taking too much time, and rendering with too little accuracy. I determined that more Photoshopping would be faster than more wire modeling, and, in this case, time could not be ignored. Instead, I cut the lace emblems out of the paper, and shaped them with wire taped to the underside, but the detail of the lace didn't show up well enough in test shots for me to trace it effectively in Photoshop. So, I began tracing over the lace pattern with a dark pen, so that it would render clearly enough to digitally trace it.
One of the hidden gems about this particular handkerchief is that the shape of a moth, or a butterfly is embedded in the lace pattern. It's not as obvious without its features highlighted, but once you see it, you know how it goes: you can't un-see it. Of course, it's stylized, but there are two pairs of wings, an abdomen, and a head, replete with a pair of curled antennae. So, what's the big deal? Well, let me borrow some of the text I wrote for the competition entry:
While moths are often deemed pests by fashion-lovers, and butterflies have been cheapened by kitsch, the iconographic use of moths and butterflies has endured across time and global cultures. As noted in Taschen’s The Book of Symbols, “From ancient times the butterfly [...] has signified not only the mystery of physical metamorphoses, but also the loveliest transmutations of the soul.” Thus, this symbolic metamorphosis is apropos: a fashion lover’s 1890s lace handkerchief is reinvented as a contemporary, 3D printed jewelry collection.TECHlace 3D Printed Jewelry Proposal
For the competition, I needed to submit three proposed jewelry pieces as part of a coordinated line. All along, I knew one would be a bracelet or "cuff," as larger ones like this are trendily called. By mirroring the emblem, my second piece would be worn on the head, offset, with a bit of a 20s vibe. (A headpiece from a singular emblem would be a cool item, too, but in the interest of a diverse initial proposal, I opted for the double.) For the third component in the suite, I chose a necklace, but rather than lie flat as traditional lace would, the "lace" of the necklace would undulate, casting lacy shadows underneath.
Once the paper "lace" was cut, and the crucial lines traced so as to show up well in the photoshoot, I affixed thin wire to the back of the paper with tape, and shaped the pieces into their three-dimensional forms. I actually have a whole pile of mockup cuffs that I used to iterate which elements of the lace were the most crucial to highlight, and how the elements would connect to one another as a unified piece without the underlying mesh that holds the real lace together. Once I'd narrowed it down to the winning version, that was a wrap on the low-tech phase of the project.
Blake and I had a ton of fun with the photoshoot for this project. He played photographer, I played model, and together we snagged some great shots. We sorted and culled, culled and sorted, and finally narrowed it down to just one winning image for each of the three proposed pieces. Of course, remember that these are images of me wearing jewelry made of cut up paper and wire, nothing that would really sell the idea just yet. So, from there the Photoshop editing began.
In the slideshow, you can watch the general transition from original image to the final ad mockup for the cuffs. Simplified, the Photoshop process entailed removing the paper mockups (but preserving them for reference), and filling in "skin" or "hair" underneath them, as the case may be. Then, a quick switch to black and white, along with some other adjustments, such as cleaning up flyaway hairs and whatnot. Then, using the paper mockups as an underlaid reference, I drew the proposed cuffs digitally. Some pattern filling, shadow rendering, and lighting effects later, and BOOM: a more marketable, believable proposal. Lastly, I added the text and the image of the original handkerchief in InDesign, completing each of the pseudo print ads. Now I only wish I got to actually see this in a magazine!
January 9th, 2015
Well, unfortunately, I just got word that I was not one of the lucky winners of the Wonderluk 2015 Design Competition. They had hundreds of submissions, and report that it was very hard to choose, which I don't doubt! I look forward to seeing the winning designs! And now, I just need to sculpt out some more time to work on this little pet project of mine, as I would just love, love to get to wear those cuffs.
To see all three proposed pieces in their presentation form, along with the write up I submitted as a component of the competition entry, head on over and check the project out in the portfolio.